Classroom corner: SBSM Teacher named PE Teacher of the Year


Sarah Savala - Middle School PE Teacher of the Year

In this edition of the SBSM Spring Newsletter, we sit down *virtually* with one of our partnered teachers, Sarah Savala. Sarah is a physical education teacher at Marshall Academy of the Arts - a middle school in Long Beach that received the UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind program in 2018.

Amelia: Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us! News on the street is that you recently were awarded the Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year award from California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (CAHPERD) congratulations! Can you tell us why you received this honor?

Sarah: I believe I was nominated and selected for this award based on the work I have done with physical education curriculum development. In 2009 I received my National Board Certification and since then I have helped teachers deepen their physical education content knowledge through in depth yearlong professional development. I have helped many schools revamp their physical education programs and rethink how they teach PE. I have been an advocate for high quality physical education since I started teaching and have worked hard to perfect my own practice attending professional development and staying on top of all the new teaching strategies and pedogogy.

Amelia: How long have you been a member of CAHPERD? Why is important to be a member of this organization?

Sarah: I have been a CAHPERD member since 1999 when I was a senior in college. I was told early on that it was very important for my profession to join this professional community. Since then, I have attended CAHPERD conferences all over California. I have also attended the national conferences. The community of physical educators is why this organization is so powerful. The people I have met along the way have shaped my teaching today. Through collaboration and connections to the curriculum and others that are providing rigorous content knowledge to their students, I have been able to stay up to day with the newest and the latest teaching strategies and pedagogy.

Sarah Savala winning award

Amelia: Can you tell us a little about your personal history as an educator and why you chose this path?

Sarah: I grew up playing and loving sports. Physical education was my favorite subject matter in school because I loved to be outdoors and loved being competitive with my peers. It was a way for me to get out my energy. When I was in high school, I had a sports injury that put me on the sidelines. My soccer coach at the time was an athletic trainer at a local university. While on the sidelines, he taught me how to wrap and tape ankles, along with ways to rehab injuries. I entered college as a Kinesiology major with an emphasis in athletic training. I worked my way through the program and did many hours on the sidelines of high school games. I really enjoyed that part of the “job”, but knew that a career in that field would be challenging. I knew I loved to work with kids, so moving into physical education was a no brainer. I graduated with a BS in Kinesiology with an emphasis in physical education. I then went on to obtain my teaching credential.

Amelia: What is your philosophy regarding PE and your approach to physical education as a whole?

Sarah: Teaching students to love their bodies and understand that living a healthy and active life is what will propel them throughout life. I believe that students need to find their passion in movement and find what they love so that they can continue to be active beyond what they do in physical education. It is important to teach students to know why they are doing what they are doing and how it is going to help them improve their overall health.

Amelia: What changes have you seen in children this past year after the return to the classroom environment? How does PE uniquely support students in ways other subjects don’t after the pandemic?

Sarah: Students came in very unprepared for structure and routines. They struggled with social skills and confidence. They were sluggish, unhealthy, and very out of shape. I spent countless weeks focused on social skills and learning how to behave in a structured environment, as well as how to make appropriate connections with their students. We played many cooperative games learning to trust each other and build character. In a normal year, this would take a couple weeks to teach and for the students to learn, but this year that process was closer to two months.

melia: If you had the opportunity to modify legislation, state standards, or district rules regarding physical education, what would you change and why?

Sarah: If I had the opportunity to modify legislation for physical education, I would get rid of Fitness Testing. It’s not a true representation of how healthy a child is. I feel that the FITNESSGRAM assessment, if administered correctly, could be a great tool for monitoring and adjusting fitness levels, but it has too many missing pieces to be used as an assessment of one's overall fitness. I also feel that there are gender biases within the test. Gender should play a role, but not as significant as it does. I don't believe that there is one test that can assess one's overall fitness. I believe that students should be monitoring and adjusting their levels of fitness and overall health based on their own growth over time. Teachers should create learning experiences that encourage excitement and joy for movement and allow students to develop their strengths based on their levels and at their own pace.

Amelia: Thank you for all of your great insight Sarah! Congratulations again on your win and have a great summer!

Pictured is a photo of Sarah after winning her award.